The History of Chat Rooms

By Faith Davies

Each day, people from across the globe utilize chat rooms. Chat rooms have evolved from the stuff of computer geniuses to a user-friendly platform for people of all ages. The uses of chat rooms have expanded from gaming and simple conversation to applications used in education, business, medicine and customer service. Clubs, organizations and support groups utilize private chat rooms to hold meetings, and detailed help functions help those with little or no experience utilize such programs with ease.

MUD Servers

In 1978, a student at England's University of Essex named Roy Trubshaw created a computer program that allowed people to join in a fantasy-based game from their home computers. The program was called MUD, or Multi-User Dungeon, in homage of the dice-based gaming system known as Dungeons and Dragons. Trubshaw's first MUD slowly spread outside his network of friends and acquaintances, inspiring others to create their own versions of the program. By 1994, there were more than 400 MUDs on the Internet, and their topics spread from gaming to general conversation to MUDs formed by groups and associations to discuss common interests. MUDs were relegated largely to those who were computer-savvy and served as the first online chat rooms.

IRC Chat

In August 1988, Jarkko Oikarinen created Internet Relay Chat (IRC) while working for the University of Oulu in Finland. The original design was meant to support bulletin board functions that allowed people to discuss software, news and other issues online. The original IRC chat room platform featured only one server and one network. Users enjoyed the social aspects of IRC chat and utilized it for the sharing of information. During the Soviet coup attempt in 1991, much of the world anxiously sought information from the USSR, where media were forbidden to report. IRC chat reports became the sole news source leaving the country, spreading the word about IRC. Since that time, IRC has grown to several thousand networks. People can register online with an IRC username that allows them to visit a host of chat rooms on a variety of subjects.

Java Chat

In 1991, computer engineers from Sun began work on a programming language for the Internet. The team, led by James Gosling, produced its first finished language called "Oak" one year later. By 1995, the version of language was renamed as Java and was able to allow for dynamic graphics and applications to be performed on the Internet. A host of websites launched Java in that year, and with its many uses, the first Java chat rooms were created. Java chat was unique in that it could be embedded into a website page, allowing people to participate in chat rooms from their Internet browser. Java technology continued to grow until it reached usage on more than 550 million computers in 2003. Java chat is available on hundreds of thousands of websites and is used for a range of purposes from recreational and personal use to customer service chat rooms on business websites.

Instant Messaging Chat Rooms

As Java chat rooms were growing in popularity, chat rooms available through instant messaging services began to be developed as well. In 1995, AOL employees were given the usage of a buddy list to communicate to other employees on their Intranet. AOL Instant Messenger (AIM) was released to AOL subscribers in 1997 as a way to communicate with other AOL users. The 2.0 version released in 2001 allowed non-AOL subscribers to use the messenger and also included the use of private chat rooms that users could invite one another to participate in. Yahoo! launched its own instant messenger in 1998, and from its inception, Yahoo! Messenger users could access chat rooms on a variety of topics for Yahoo! users as well as private chat rooms. While Yahoo! Messenger still provides access to Yahoo! group chat rooms, the ability to create private chat rooms was removed in 2007.

Voice Chat

The newest wave of chat room utilities combines videoconferencing with chat rooms. Known as voice chat, these programs allow users to chat, view a common slide show or application, and also hear one another's voices. NetMeeting from Microsoft was the first voice chat program released. Its first debut occurred in 1997, when it was released with Internet Explorer 4. Another voice chat utility called Paltalk was launched in 1998 through a New York-based company known as AVM. Paltalk has been released in several versions since and has grown to boast over four million users.